Naumes Inc. employees were among the nearly 200,000-plus people who evacuated the Feather drainage below the Oroville Dam Sunday.
The Medford-based agriculture firm operates a cold storage and packing plant outside Marysville, just off Highway 70, a quarter-mile east of the Feather River.
"Our facility is shut down and locked down and our employees are either in hotels or with friends," company Vice President Laura Naumes said Monday.
The emergency slipway off the Oroville Dam was the second to fail in a matter of days, after the dam's primary slipway developed a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole last week. The dam itself was not damaged. Should the emergency slipway collapse, however, it could unleash a wall of water down the valley.
Officials have said residents may have to wait until repairs are made to the spillway before they can return home.
Naumes had 2,000 acres under production in the area until five years ago, when it sold much of its farmland to concentrate on its storage and packing operations. The company also operates an 864-kilowatt solar system that powers much of the plant. The 120,000-square-foot cold storage building and 101,000-square-foot packing and warehouse were built following a 2010 fire that destroyed previous facilities.
"We've been monitoring the situation all week," Naumes said. "We knew Oroville was full and there's a large snowpack. Luckily, the water is receding at the dam and not spilling at the moment. The concern is that we've made it through this wave. But with the snowpack and runoff, we're not sure what it's going to mean going forward."
The Naumes New England Orchard facility, 260 miles south of the Rogue Valley, employs about a dozen people, expanding to 15 during peak season.
Although the solar panels are perched on the plant and warehouse roof, the converters are on the ground.
"What worries us is when we bring things back online, the converters are very expensive," Naumes said. "It's only 40 miles to Sacramento, but it took hours to get there because of all the gridlock."
Presently the plant is storing grape vine stock, nursery trees, kiwi plants and strawberry plant starters.
"Because of the time of year, there aren't a lot of packed pears there right now, which is good for us," she said. "We've been through two floods in the past, but since the last one about 15 years ago, they've built a new 100-year levee. We'll see how well that holds."
Yuba County is primarily agriculture land with a smattering of smaller communities. Yuba City, population 66,000, the largest town in the vicinity, is in neighboring Sutter County.
Former Medford resident Dan Jensen, a retired Les Schwab Tire Center manager, said some Sutter County residents who weren't given mandatory evacuation notices stayed put.
"In our neighborhood it was a mix," said Jensen, who lives a mile from the river.
Jensen had friends who made the seven-mile trip west to the community of Sutter.
"It took them five hours," Jensen said.
Given the choice, Jensen elected to stay put.
"If worse came to worse and the spillway broke, in our location, it would be hours before the water reached us," he said. "We could wait in our home for five hours or wait in our car for five hours."
While Jensen and his wife monitored reports through the night, he said, "There was no reason to panic."
Water behind the dam was receding at 4 inches per hour after midnight, and engineers were accessing damage.
But that reduction can be deceiving, he said.
"In 1997, we had inflow to where it was rising a foot an hour," Jensen said. "A potential storm could cause the water to go back over the auxiliary spillway, making people very nervous."
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.